Can big pix prolong B.O. summer fling?

'Disguise,' 'Signs,' 'XXX' to unspool before August's end

You won’t catch Hollywood distribution execs talking about the dog days of August this year.

Continuing the summer distribution pattern of recent years, several distribs will unleash some of their most ferocious box office prospects over the last month of the season, a period still marked by rampant vacationing among production execs but no longer a time for their distribution colleagues to let loose stray poodles on the moviegoing public.

This weekend, Sony unspools “The Master of Disguise,” a Dana Carvey laffer perhaps best described as neither pedigreed pooch nor mutt. But one week later, Sony/Revolution’s megahyped actioner “XXX” unspools in what Revolution topper Joe Roth has called his most important release of the year.

Disney opens M. Night Shyamalan’s high-profile Mel Gibson starrer “Signs” today, and a week later, corporate cousin Miramax bows its big family sequel “Spy Kids 2” on Aug. 9. That same weekend, Warner Bros. debuts Clint Eastwood starrer “Blood Work,” followed one frame later by pricey Eddie Murphy pic “The Adventures of Pluto Nash.”

Fascinating femmes

Colliding with “Pluto” will be wide bows by Universal’s much-anticipated surfer girls movie “Blue Crush” and New Line’s Al Pacino starrer “Simone.” The Labor Day sesh then begins Aug. 30 with at least three wide openers and several expansions by platforming limited releases.

It’s enough to give a vacation-starved distribution exec pause. But most distribs have done what they can to position films in their best light.

“We think ‘Simone’ will stand out because the picture is a different sort of comedy,” said New Line’s David Tuckerman, who this weekend will be in week two with B.O. hit-in-progress “Austin Powers in Goldmember.”

A whimsical tale about a failed director who aims for success with a cyberactress, “Simone” is much more adult-oriented a film than, say, “Goldmember.” Meanwhile, Tuckerman hopes the spy spoof’s laughs will put up a fight for the youth aud against actioner “XXX.”

Over the coming frame, “Goldmember” will knock heads with Paramount concert doc “Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat,” in addition to “Signs” and “Master of Disguise.” Forecasting chances for the Mike Myers starrer this sesh, Tuckerman estimated, “Anything less than a 50% drop for a picture this big would be good.”

“Goldmember” hunted down $73.1 million in its opening weekend, and daily grosses since then have been equally groovy. Comedy was expected to reach a shagadelic $100 million domestically by the end of its seventh day Thursday — the fastest pace ever for a laffer.

Close encounter

“Signs,” which unspools in 3,264 theaters, looks poised to gross well north of $30 million in its opening frame. That would put it squarely in competish with soph sesher “Goldmember” for this weekend’s No. 1 spot.

“I’m really jazzed about the picture, and I think it’s going to be a nice cap to our summer,” Disney distrib boss Chuck Viane said of “Signs’ ” prospects.

“Master,” set for 2,565 playdates, may approach the double-digit millions. And “Martin Lawrence” — skedded for only 750 engagements keying on urban markets — figures to be good for at least the high single digits.

As for any of the pics’ prospects over subsequent weekends, much depends on whether Vin Diesel starrer “XXX” lives up to B.O. expectations. Sony marketing maven Geoff Ammer has sought to push pic partly by stressing it was helmed by Rob Cohen and produced by Neal Moritz, who last collaborated, with Diesel, on 2001 youth hit “The Fast and the Furious.”

Driven to reteam

“We needed to capitalize on the hugely successful team that brought ‘Fast and the Furious’ to the marketplace,” Ammer said. “But this is also a picture that is much broader than ‘Fast and the Furious.’ ”

That would be notable, for as Ammer pointed out, “We’re finding this summer that it’s hard to get somebody over 34 to go to the movies.” Tracking data bodes well, with pic awareness high among prospective patrons: younger and older males, and females.

Marketing campaign has featured lots of action shots for the youth crowd, but also stressed older-appealing cast members like Samuel L. Jackson. Deft campaign reflects the complicated challenges of marketing a major release — whether it’s unspooling in August or elsewhere on the calendar.

But in the end, there’s only so much to be pulled out of one’s bag of cute marketing tricks, Ammer confessed.

“You don’t want to get so clever that nobody comes to see the picture.”

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